Overweening Generalist

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Short Spiel on Axiology

I have previously touched on axiology, or the study of values, HERE. I think I was trying to emphasize a version of the old saw "The personal is political." Among other things I was trying to say...

Jeez: it's difficult to communicate about Big Ideas. Haven't you found that to be true in your own life? We all have passions. I assume most of the people who read this blog know, in some deep way, that what's good for the well-being of their neighbor is often good for oneself. What's good for you can be good for strangers you'll never meet. And substitute "good" for "bad" in those sentences too. But what is "good" or "bad" here?

I think we all have values and strong, passionately held ethical ideas. And morality, which I will define here as careful thought and action about the idea that if we do A then Z might happen. I think thinking-on-your-feet morality is about thinking about what might happen if we do X. Are we ready to make that move, after having thought about it? Our actions will have consequences. And if we're over 18, often this just complicates matters.

And Shakespeare's "Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so," only gets us so far. Billy Shakes is right: we happen to be able to think about what's good or bad or in-between. I assume a cow or  Earth's six-legged majority do not think about good and bad, morality. We got saddled with that at some point in our evolution. (By the way, Montaigne said something along the same lines as The Bard, but earlier. And some scholars are sure Bard had a copy of Montaigne, but I digress...Anyway, I bet someone said something almost exactly the same before Montaigne. Like some Roman. Ovid or someone like that. It's the kinda thing that would get said, and repeated throughout history: can't you just feel it?)

And then there's the sociology of knowledge. Someone - like you or me - makes a strong statement in a group at a gathering. Let's say about some political matter. And someone else pipes up with a definite snarl, "Sez who?" Because they don't agree with something you think is a slam-dunk. Like raising taxes on the rich. Or banking reform. Or sending Cheney and Rumsfeld to The Hague. No. Somehow, your detractor thinks all those things are Bad Ideas. The poor are getting too much socialism, he says. And you nod, roll your eyes, and politely excuse yourself to go get another drink and mosey outside for air.

That's because, with the sociology of knowledge, ideas are shaped by many factors, possibly the largest one being the social and economic situation of the speaker. What's just plain no-brainer stuff to us is "nonsense" to others. And ain't that an existential bitch!

Which brings us back to a study of values, or what philosophers call "axiology." How did you get your values? Were they received from Daddy? From peers? Did you get 'em from reading a whole bunch of books? From a Man of God? Can we elucidate our values, if only to ourselves? Do we recall the personal evolution of some value or another? Do we remember what made us change our minds?

While we cannot alter, overnight, the operating values in our society, we can damned well do something about our own values. Thinking about them, for one. That seems like a biggie. Let us not underestimate the power of that.

I wrote in that earlier blog post about our own hierarchy of values. Because surely: when you think about what are the most valuable ways to "be" and treat other people, or your friends, your neighbors, the people in another area of your country, the people from some remote part of the world, your ideas about ownership, work, money, play, communication, humor, sex, how much is "enough," knowledge, rules, creativity, etc, etc, etc: you'll find you care about some things more than other things.

                          Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs. Elaborate your own eccentricities in there!

Which is not to slight the things toward the bottom of your hierarchy. They may prove much more important as time goes on. But there probably are a few values that really occupy your thoughts for a hefty portion of your waking day. (Who said "Sex!"?) They are at your top. And that was YOUR CHOICE, right?

And I bet, if you think about your top one or two or three, they have a lot to do with biology. Just a guess...

I said this was gonna be a "short spiel," but my Mr. Loudmouth prolixity and chronic verborrhea has once again gotten the better of me, and you were warned this guy is "overweening," so I end with Fred N:

"All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values."
-Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche wrote that about 140 years ago. Have the "sciences" done their job? If not, why? Was Fred being too ironically Platonic in asking for "the true" hierarchy? Even if the "sciences" were supposed to underwrite that hierarchy? Has some conspiracy, Vast, Cool, and Unsympathetic, kept the hierarchy from being realized species-wide? If so, whodunnit? Is the hierarchy always and ineluctably a strictly personal thing? When is it not strictly personal? How the fuck do we get out of this mess?



SatoriGuy said...

I think we would all do much better to use the 8-circuit model of conciousness when contemplating values. It definitely puts into perspective the evolutionary and sociobiological roots of our morals and social hierarchies.

michael said...

I think this is a very good idea, but since I've had this Blogger blog over these 4 + months, I can see where I get hits, what articles are read...and I seriously wonder if the people who read OG and know the 8CB Model are at best 7-15 readers?

Which reminds me: WHO is reading me in Malaysia? It's in my Top 10 countries for readers. I find this difficult to understand.